A new study published in January in the Annals of Family Medicine brings attention to a serious health issue that is likely being overlooked.  The issue, excessive alcohol intake, may be missed in 75% of the patients who over consume.

“Heavy” alcohol use is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as more than 14 drinks per week for men and more than seven drinks per week for women.  Consuming that much alcohol is characterized as “risky” behavior and jeopardizes the patient’s health.  It could also pose a hazard to others if driving automobiles, operating heavy machinery or other activities are being undertaken by the consumer.

Alcohol use is linked to hypertension, liver disease and various cancers, and misuse of alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

Although the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends screening for alcohol use, the study suggests that most primary care doctors are not routinely screening; instead, they are relying upon their own judgment about whether the patient is likely overusing alcohol.

Something as simple as a few screening questions or use of questionnaire could identify the extent and manner of a patient’s alcohol use; by counseling the patient about the risks of alcohol use and assessing potential health effects, lives could be perhaps be saved.  The study demonstrated how primary care doctors are falling far short of identifying who is at risk and are thereby failing to give important health information to help curb the risky behaviors.

Virginia Buchanan is a shareholder at Levin, Papantonio.  She has served on the Board of Directions of the Florida Bar Foundation and has been Treasurer of ABOTA, Chairperson of the Civil Process Server Grievance Committee and has been a member of the Chief Judge’s Council on Children. She currently is a member of the Women’s Caucus of the Florida Justice Association.